Dylanesque – Rolling Thunder albums: Cardiff Rose – Roger McGuinn


Previously in this series

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

[Prelude from Tony – I write these reviews as I am listening to the music so the comments really are just how I feel at the time.   In this piece I start of sounding like a grumpy old git (that’s probably just an English phrase, but I’m hoping you’ll understand) but I do hope you can get to the end, not just because there are some good recordings on the way, but also because last piece selected by Aaron is a real wonder to behold.]

Aaron: Let’s look at another one of the albums that spun out of the Rolling Thunder Revue. This time it is Cardiff Rose by Roger McGuinn. The band included Rolling Thunder alumni Rob Stoner, Mick Ronson, David Mansfield and Howard Wyeth. Both Dylan and Joni Mitchell gifted him original songs. McGuinn wrote several songs with Jacques Levy.

The album, produced by Mick Ronson, was recorded on the heels of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue 1975 tour, in which both McGuinn and Ronson had participated.

Album opener Take Me Away describes the scene of the Rolling Thunder Revue…

You should have been there
When the time was right for the music to begin
You should have been there
When that band of gypsies started rollin' in
You should have seen it
You'd have swore for sure the circus came to town
There were ladies ridin' bareback
And the mystery man all painted like a clown

Take me away, take me away, take me away

Tony: I’m wondering if I am getting too old for this reviewing lark, because I find myself being increasingly negative about songs I listen to from the “old days”.  And this is another – it just doesn’t seem to have any of the real excitement of what Rolling Thunder was about.  Indeed even the repeated line “You should have been there” is not in itself very exciting.

Just a few months ago we did a little series about Dylan’s greatest opening lines – we ended up with over 100 of them, and they are absolute knock-outs.  Ranging from ‘God said to Abraham “Kill me a son”’ through to “In the lonely night, in the blinking stardust of a pale blue light” with every possible variation en route.

OK even Dylan couldn’t give every song a brilliant opening line, but really, for a song about the greatest rock tour ever surely there is something better to say than “You should have been there.”

I mean one could even take a Dylan line and turn it into something new if all else failed (how about “Maybe it is like the night to explode when you think you’ve already seen it all” – that just popped into my head out of nowhere, and if that can emerge in a couple of seconds, there must be many many more better opening lines to describe the great Tour than “You should have been there”.)   Sorry, not for me.

Aaron: One of my favorites from the album is the acoustic Friend

Tony: Now that I have got the Rolling Thunder Review out of my head, I can listen to this more clearly.

Oh friendWhy did you try so hard to pretendThat you could beat your ownGut feelings in the endOh we're gonna miss you 'round here,Good old friend

Friend is a song that strikes a chord – and indeed a painful one – and this time I really do think Roger McGuinn got this right.  The passing of a dear friend is something, I find, that never leaves me, and actually I find I feel that for friends who I have lost touch with as well as for those who have passed away.  But there are surely few things worse than seeing a dear friend take a road that is so obviously wrong for him/herself and not being able to do anything to help.   There’s that moment when one is trying to persuade the friend and she says, “It’s just something I have to do,” and you know there is nothing more you can say.  Debate, reason, logic have all broken down, and you know that when the friend has gone off and done it, she won’t be able to come back and admit, “I got it wrong.”  Or in the case described in the song, simply won’t be able to come back.

Aaron: Next we have the Dylan track Up to Me

Tony:  I love this track, and I love this arrangement.   And I’m beginning to see the pattern in the whole album, and if I am right it was a very brave album to tackle.   Very interesting way the accompaniment is arranged – and as far as I know this is one of the very few covers of this song – perhaps the only one.   I’ve not got to it yet on the Cover a Day series – and it will be interesting to see who else (if anyone) has tackled it.

The point about the song is that it is 12 verses of identical structure, with each verse having four lines (although some people split the last line in half to make five).   But more to the point, all the lines have the same melody and chord sequence.  So one musical line repeated 48 times.   Which is probably why hardly anyone else has ever tried a cover.

I’m not sure if this really works here.  And I don’t think Bob ever played this in public for the simple reason that after one has got used to the words, it does get, well repetitive.  It’s a great try here, and if there is a fault it is with the song not the singer.

Aaron: Joni Mitchell’s “Dreamland”, which later appeared on her 1977 album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.

Tar baby and the Great White WonderTalking over a glass of rumBurning on the insideWith the knowledge of things to comeThere's gambling out on the terraceAnd midnight ramblin' on the lawnAs they lead toward temptationWith dreamland coming onDream, dream, dreamland, dream, dreamland

Tony: This is, to my mind, an utterly amazing song, and if you are taken by hearing it I would urge you to look up the complete lyrics  as the song does indeed fulfill the title – it is  a picture of wild and impossible dreams with a brilliant, energetic backing.

What makes this so exciting, (apart from the lyrics and the performance!) is that instead of the regular four bars to a phrase we get five – which gives the whole piece a really edgy feel.

I don’t know the sequence of recordings – maybe you can help me, but there is also this recording which through its utterly different accompaniment gives the song a totally different feel and indeed a totally different meaning.   I do hope you have time to listen to this all the way through; the harmonies that she slips in are great fun (and I just wish there were a few more).

Talk about two utterly different versions of the same song by the same artist!

Wow, Aaron, this series you dreamed up is taking us to the most amazing places.  It’s a brilliant idea.  Hope you can keep it going – I’m really loving it, and even the tracks I don’t like are interesting to listen to as I try to puzzle out why I don’t like them.  Ignore my initial comments about getting to old.  Not at all.  More please.

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